‘How often does it need to rain for us to know that the ground gets wet?’
It feels a bit like that when it comes to addressing our gender issues – we all know what we ought to be doing – and if we don’t, there’s plenty of experts out there ready to share their thoughts with us, whether we want them or not! Some try and attract us by being ‘edgy’ some try scare tactics; others promise a wave of a magic wand, ‘creative accounting’ or even some ‘virtual reality’ simulations to stun our leaders to action!
In reality, the path to true gender parity has multiple levers and will only be achieved when we create an environment of inclusion – one where everyone with the capability to, can succeed, be heard and thrive.
There’s no doubt that we must focus on our people policies, but more important to remember that people are the only way to achieve a step change in our approach to embracing not just gender, but diversity of every kind, in our companies globally.
1. Tone from the top
Yes, it’s boring, and yes, I know you’ve ‘heard it all before.’ What’s so new about training our executives, in fact you’ve probably already done it! But now’s the time to get real – if what we’ve all been doing in our companies up to now to embrace gender and wider diversity, mitigate unconscious bias and promote inclusion had been working, I wouldn’t be writing this blog, and we wouldn’t still be discussing lack of gender parity – never mind the sorts of gender pay gaps that are currently being reported in businesses not only in the UK, but across the globe!
When working with the most senior teams, it’s less about ‘training’ and more about capturing the hearts and minds of the senior teams to drive change. The key to that is ‘making it real’ – demonstrating the absolute and direct link between inclusion and the delivery of their own specific business results has leaders taking a whole new approach to the many and varied aspects of diversity, and explore these through the lens of their own values, beliefs and judgements. And do watch out for the old ‘meritocracy’ argument – the ‘best man got the job’ isn’t going to cut it anymore!
2. This isn’t about the women
Don’t jump straight to ‘fix’ your women – focus on your managers – after all, both male and female managers have the most crucial role in our careers, they can make or break us, and often with only the very best of intentions! Just like your execs and senior leaders, managers also need to get their heads around the direct link between inclusion and the delivery of their specific business goals. Not an easy ask and we can’t expect our managers to become experts in this overnight – it’s not why we promoted them after all!
I’m sure that you’re already sharing your gender and diversity stats with your managers – most companies do. What happens when you dig deeper and share the fact that perhaps your women are outperforming men in their annual reviews – and yet 80% of your promotions are still going to men? Barefaced facts like these can diffuse even the staunchest critic, forcing them to think more deeply about everything from who they bring into the team, who they give the ‘juicy’ work to, and who they promote. (And PS – don’t forget to be ready on hand to offer practical ways for them to do all of this when they’re ready to support the cause!)
3. Oh alright – it IS about the women!
Well some of it is, anyway! It’s no secret that I’m concerned about the lasting damage we can do with a misplaced ‘gender agenda’ but we can’t ignore the facts – after all, we aren’t generally struggling within our businesses to bring in more men at the top to balance gender parity!
But let’s get a bit more practical about this stuff. However much we might kick against women’s development programmes – have a quick look to see how much your competitors are investing in their female talent. And so what if they are they’re forcing their women through the direst of content – ‘How to Dress for the Boardroom’ and ‘How to Look Confident When You’re Shaking Inside’ – being two of the most ‘interesting’ ones I’ve seen in recent months!
Investing in their women is what they are doing – and if you aren’t, then what message are you sending both inside, and outside, your company?
4. Don’t forget the men
It’s not ALL about the women though. With over 50% of white men already feeling excluded from diversity programmes, and two thirds feeling that their company’s focus on diversity has no business significance, it’s easy to see how an increased focus on gender parity can quickly backfire. We need to be ready to deal with the potential backlash with some white middle-aged men already feeling discriminated against enough to allege ‘positive discrimination.’ Recent research states that over sixty percent of white men at work feel they are now likely to be overlooked for advancement in favour of a minority group.
It’s important for businesses to create an inclusive space for all employees, whatever their gender, and to work towards a common ground which supports mutual understanding and respect. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that we have gender parity issues in the global workplace – they maybe just a little bit more complex than they first appear.
5. Hold those feet to the fire
Whatever approach you’re taking to achieving parity in your business, you’ll want to invest in the long haul. We’ve all seen the ‘one and done’ approaches fail – often causing more issues than those they were brought in to solve! By targeting those populations with most influence over creating the changes you are seeking, and supporting them with tools relevant to their challenges and opportunities, you’ll drive committed, incremental and most importantly, sustainable change.
Holding your leaders and managers accountable for defining their own inclusion story, with measurable inclusion activities over an extended period will truly make inclusion part of business as usual, and not simply some ‘mystical programme’ that ticks yet another HR box.
What gets measured gets done – and when you’ve measured, reported and discussed – that’s the time to do it again….and again…
‘The drops of rain make a hole in the stone, not by violence, but by oft falling.’ Lucretius
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